product_data

Disturbance

Ivy Alvarez
ISBN-13: 
9781781720875
Publication Date: 
Monday, October 7, 2013
0
No votes yet
£9.99

 

‘Disturbance is a precise, pained, and wondrous book.’
                                                                                –Teju Cole

Disturbance is a novel in verse by Ivy Alvarez that chronicles a multiple homicide, a tragic case of domestic violence, where a family was gunned down by the husband and father. 
The book features poems in a kaleidoscope of voices from all the characters involved. We first meet the family itself and witness how the father’s controlling attitude gradually escalates into violence. Then we get the aftermath: the authorities, police and neighbours, who all might have helped to prevent this tragedy. This is a very dark book, but a courageous one, ultimately about evil and its presence in our everyday lives. The fact that this family was relatively well-to-do, seemingly prosperous and well-connected, adds another layer of intrigue and mystery. There is some graphic violence, but the emphasis is on the characters and their motivations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEWS

Review by George Ttoouli, Gists & Piths

Monday, October 24, 2016

Disturbance is “an imaginative retelling of and a response to actual events” according to the statement on the verso page; “Names, actions and thoughts of the characters are products of the author's imagination and are used fictitiously.” So there's the first challenge of this book: it's using fact to authenticate the poetry in a way that forces you to tread a fine line between thinking 'do I buy this?' and 'these events were really awful.'

Holding that unresolvable in mind, here's the rough shape of the book: poem by poem, it's a multi-vocal panorama of points of view connected to a domestic double-murder/suicide. Each poem is formally shaped to indicate different characters connected to the crime. Some are sequences in connected voices – the four policemen – others are sequences by the same speaker – most notably the murderer and his wife.

Plot synopsis: following the filing of divorce by his wife, an abusive husband and father of two (a (teenage?) boy and a daughter who is absent at university at the time) secretly copies the key to his mistress' gun cabinet, steals her shotgun and shells, then murders his son, his wife and then himself. This is bleak, realist material and while the characters are named (fictitiously, as mentioned in the verso statement), the events translate simultaneously into horror and a replicated, generic crime of passion. [*]

On first read, the structure evoked a similarly structured project, Ann Beattie's Mr Nobody At All. Published with an issue of McSweeney's Quarterly as a stand-alone novella, Beattie's collection of prose eulogies at the wake of a completely ordinary man by members of his local community is tonally completely different. It's a gentle comedic farce, carefully and consistently delivered. The traditional use of prose also allows for a far more believable construction of voice, character, actions, dialogue, etc. than Disturbance aims for.

The association, however, also demonstrates Alvarez's ambitions. Disturbance offers the emotional anatomy of a crime too terrible to make sense of. A recurring theme in the first half of the book, spoken by neighbours, police, and quested after and filled in by the journalist, is that they “don't know what could have set him off” ('A neighbouring farmer'). And this is the gap that runs through the whole book and, no doubt, the true events: why did he do it? Instead of answering this question, it features prominently and becomes a central thread through the nightmare maze of fear, horror, disgust – and love, at times.

The bonds between husband and wife, father and children, are completely broken, but there is a strange moment when the mistress speaks fondly of him in ways that no one else can. Even this, however, is retrospectively removed, in 'The Mistress Speaks':  “You think you know a man. / I guess I didn't.” The gap in knowing rewrites the bond between lovers. Even the journalist fails to fill in the gap, though claiming, “I write down what they say / and sometimes what's unsaid” ('The Journalist Speaks II').

I have many problems with the execution of the book. Being poetry, rather than plot-driven prose, the medium struggles to carry the essential details of the crime. Exposition straddles the monologues awkwardly. Poetry (with a capital P) has to keep declaring itself through rhymes, despite a sense of the intention being that the collection wants to capture everyday speech, to retain realism.

And yet, the voices are mostly the same. The formal structures of each are highly inventive (I'll talk more about this below), but ultimately there's no syntactical modulation and the daughter, the son, the priest, the murderer, the policemen and detective all seem to blend together as one voice. This voice isn't a spoken voice; to begin, there's a lot of factual detail; this gives way to abstract emotional detail; then there's the reflective attempts to make sense of what's happened; and metaphor intrudes regularly, disrupting the veracity of spoken living. So, while the project as a whole captivated me, the delivery of each slice was often unsatisfying, disrupted.

On the other hand, the structural work is surprising and worked well for me. The part that captured me most was at the end, the murder of the son. In the real events, as I understand through the book: the husband arrives, at night, at the family home, the mother and son see him coming. The son goes out to meet the father and try to stop him entering the house. The father loads his shotgun. The son starts running away and his gunned down. Then shot again and again. The mother calls the police and the operator hears the later shotgun blasts and stays on the line as the mother hides in the house.

It's terrifying in itself, but this moment is delivered over and over again in the book. Firstly, the son's point of view, in 'Tom', a prose poem in the dead son's voice. Then, in 'Witness', from the mother's perspective in the house. In 'Tony and Tom' the scene is retold in the third person, watching the interaction between father and son. Most bizarre of all, 'See Jane Run' retells the mother's version in third person, but in the style of a Dick and Jane book. (This is the most effective variance of style in the book, and it feels to me like a fairly easy decision and would have worked better if it had been backed up by more stylistic range throughout.)

The repetition of the event builds the horror. The whole of the book comes together for me at that point. Disturbance, with its subtle, police-report connotations, sets out to disturb the emotionless facts of official reports. It's a strange constellation, structurally very well organised to create emotional peaks and breaks, while also retaining a sense of serial simultaneity: time doesn't run in a straight line through these poems and the fluidity of how the events are retold draws out the emotional terror and sadness.

Some of the phrasing might be marvellous if it were given breathing space, if the collection as a whole didn't put so much pressure on (as the book blurb puts it) trying to be “a novel in verse”. The poems in the voice of the murderer, for example, are heavily woven with the colour “red”, but also offer such strikingly weird images and off rhymes as, “this is the dark / I know / chasing me / down the road / the double-tongued bark” (sixth part of 'Tony'). That darkness is an evil, chasing the poet, the reader, along this road, through the collection: the massive, unspoken, Why?

These moments of poetic energy are a little too buried by the need to carry the plot forward, to accrue energy through structure. Emotionally, Disturbance is a hard read. As poetry, it's a flawed read. But it's that energy that arrives through structure, both through the whole series and the use of shapes on the page to indicate different voices in individual poems, which captivated me most. That structure offers a kind of meaning to me: that of how hard it is to make sense of the senseless; the only option is retelling, in the hope narrative might bring meaning, even when it can't.

Review by Will Ford, New Welsh Review

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Disturbance is a precisely constructed, unflinchingly observant, heartbreaking and terrifying novel of poems, a powerfully delivered and devastating firestorm of words. It portrays the build-up to and fallout from the murderous and suicidal conclusion to family life. This family has been bruised by domestic abuse, broken by divorce and ultimately obliterated by the words ‘you can’t keep my children from me... they’re mine’.

Beginning at the inquest into these tragic central events, Ivy Alvarez presents a story told in non-chronological kaleidoscopic fragments of minute detail and raw emotion. These include an emergency services operator helplessly hearing screams and shotgun blasts down the telephone line; a grandmother thinking of buying a carpet to cover bloodstains; the mistress of the murderer suffering scapegoat-hungry media coverage; Jane, scrabbling in vain to hide from a long feared fate, and Tony, a violent control freak, blaming his victims for his actions.

Over the course of forty-four poems, the reader is taken forwards and backwards in time, each poem helping to construct the wider story and often simultaneously offering a snapshot portrait of the principal character in their own words. This results in a provocative array of stylistic approaches, including a dark appropriation of the Ladybird Readers: 'See Jane run. Watch Dick run. Watch Dick chase Jane. Watch Dick chase / Jane through their house. Dick has a gun. Run Jane run.'

Within this 'verse novel', Alvarez shows admirable artistic control and a remarkable capacity for empathy. She has crafted a range of voices that, even in the briefest of appearances, reveal another facet of the wider narrative and another example of just how far the hurtful consequences of terrible acts can travel. Telling the story in verse form creates just enough distance to prevent Disturbance becoming too emotionally overwhelming to read. This method also reveals a terrible beauty within the blackest shadows of human experience.

Disturbance is a fully ‘adult’ book which may require some readers to look themselves in the eye and ask if they would have acted differently from the neighbour who didn’t want to get involved or the policemen who didn’t rush towards the sound of a shot. So authentically self-protective are some of the characters that a childlike feeling can descend on the reader seeking the need for a hero.

Among the visceral responses Disturbance provokes is a sense of helplessness. In this harsh reality, apparently definitive signs of a tragedy waiting to happen become visible only in hindsight. Wisely, then, Alvarez does not seek the moral high ground of pointing out what people should have done or said. Rather, we are offered authentically painted human responses to the kind of events most of us will be lucky enough never to be caught up in. Alvarez does not seek to suggest how to prevent these kind of horrors. As comforting as it might be to tell ourselves otherwise, such terrible acts occur because one person chooses to commit them. Tony’s choice is his alone, whatever means he uses to justifying himself:
 

Better to be a brute
than be far less.

So common is the real-life scenario of a divorced father saying ‘You can’t keep my children from me’ that Disturbance could be justified solely as a humane parable and warning about the dark places such a statement may lead. But the skill and imagination with which Alvarez approaches her subject matter from so many perspectives also makes the book an adventure for the mind. This is achieved without ever engendering the feeling that it is exploitative of suffering, and Alvarez leaves plenty of room for readers to bring their own imaginations into play.

Each reader will have their own individual response, just as Alvarez’ characters react individually to these terrible events. The timeless value of storytelling is that it can transport us into the lives, experiences and minds of others, and hold up a mirror to our assumptions and moral certainties. Alvarez has taken a long, courageous look into such a mirror. The reflection we see may bring us close to weeping for humanity. But not to giving up on it.
 

User Reviews

Anonymous's picture

Review from Cordite

0
No votes yet

Disturbance is Ivy Alvarez’s second collection of poetry. Its dedication to Dorothy Porter, Ai and Gwen Harwood is not at all surprising given that, Alvarez’s poems are comparably unflinching, unsettling and precise, exposing the horrors of family violence with an artistry that is always in the service of its compassion. Furthering the link with Porter’s work, it is also a verse novel, but a relatively unconventional one. Rather than following a linear progression, Disturbance throws us immediately into atrocity and its aftermath – the murder of a mother and a son by the father, who takes his own life, leaving a daughter alive. Each poem that follows is a fragment, retrospective and prospective, accumulating a picture of what we want to know but feel disturbed to approach – how did this happen?

When I began reading it, I assumed that the story at the heart of the book was fictional, a composite of many cases synthesised from research. Subsequently, I began to wonder how ‘real’ the poems were; in a way, attempting to measure the gap between poem and reality, I was reaching for the real, yearning for it. But Alvarez notes that Disturbance is ‘an imaginative retelling of and a response to actual events’. Like an exhibition of documentary photography, it presents framed yet incomplete impressions from particular perspectives, which confront us with the existence of the real while acknowledging the gap between an account and its source.

The book is both kaleidoscopic and choral. We are presented with the thoughts and memories of the mother, Jane; the police officers, in their enculturated impotence; the journalists, with their condensations and abstraction; and the son and daughter, with their confusion, bravery and cornered-ness. While the poet’s own aesthetic temperament gives them a certain consistency, each of these character voices is distinct and convincing. The grammar, vocabulary, emotional tone, punctuation and lineation, are all finely attuned to reflect their individual posture and energy. Yet the music of the poems is subtle and unobtrusive; Alvarez doesn’t want anything to overshadow what is being exposed and examined. Sentences are generally complete and naturalistic, a fusion of the mundane and the metaphoric, of the composed and the chaotic, which is quietly chilling:

My dinner rests warm in my belly.
I’ve just come in for my shift.
Familiar smell of old coffee,
stale sweat accumulates,
hovers near the ceiling.

‘What is the nature
of your emergency?’
Weariness
wears my voice.

But then she speaks.
I type quickly. I press buttons.

‘What is your address?’
The pads of my fingers prickle,
become slick. Keys slip beneath my skin. (‘Operator’)

Appropriately, there are also occasions where the language itself breaks down or fragments. Here, the poetry draws on an almost risky knowingness and wit, but it never loses its focus and visceral impact, as in ‘The Detective Inspector II’, which begins ‘ – eyes make/in/cre/mental/adjustments/in the dark’. Or, in ‘Hannah’s Statement’, where the breath catches and is held in white space:

once after my brother ran
he placed my hand on his heart

Alvarez’s language is most chaotic and unmoored when we hear from Tony, the father, whose ‘own hands must do something’. His confusion and possessiveness seem fuelled by a profound detachment – of his self from his body and from others. If there is any summary of his motivation to be found, Alvarez provides it negatively, as Tony states: ‘there is no explanation for me’; ‘Real things seem untouchable to me’; ‘I pass for someone ordinary/someone who looks like me’ (‘Tony’). Near the end of the book, we spend quite some time in his mind, which is populated by familiar and archetypal metaphors of ‘red’, ‘hunting’ and ‘dark’, yet also with surreal and unexpected images, such as ‘dust that skims/across your eyeballs’, ‘the subdermal itch’, ‘rank/bin juice’, and an account of the aerodynamics of golf balls. These bring us closer to a kind of visceral intimacy, rather than understanding.

The one poem which I am still ambivalent about is ‘See Jane Run’. Here, the central murderous event of the book is depicted through the truncated sentences and simple language of the iconic children’s characters, Dick and Jane. While only two-thirds of a page and in short paragraphs, this prose-poem seems to be Alvarez’s way of conveying, through parody, the unconveyable horror. It’s an undeniably affecting poem, but one that I am not drawn to read again.

By contrast, ‘Disturbance’ compellingly revolves around a black hole at its core – the mundanity of evil and the seeming inevitability of violence. And the short poem that opens the book, ‘Inquest’ signals silence as a response to inexplicability:

Members of the family wept
as the coroner read out
her pleas for help.

Nothing softened as they cried.
The wood in the room stayed hard
and square.

The windows clear.
The stenographer impassive.
The spider under the bench
intent on its fly.

I say ‘seeming inevitability’, because while there is an echo of a kind of ‘natural’ hunter and prey in the poem’s chilling conclusion, and while the wood stays ‘hard/and square’, the reader is constantly drawn into a state of empathy and resistance. These events, condensed into black text with such articulate and meticulous white space around them, are given to us in all their horror as artefacts, made things, which can conceivably be unmade. It is Alvarez’s great talent to frustrate us, to refuse to provide easy explanations. The only possible response is outside the book.

– Andy Jackson

See the full review here: http://cordite.org.au/reviews/jackson-alvarez-galbraith/

09/09/2014 - 11:44
Anonymous's picture

Review by New Welsh Review

0
No votes yet

Disturbance is a precisely constructed, unflinchingly observant, heartbreaking and terrifying novel of poems, a powerfully delivered and devastating firestorm of words. It portrays the build-up to and fallout from the murderous and suicidal conclusion to family life. This family has been bruised by domestic abuse, broken by divorce and ultimately obliterated by the words ‘you can’t keep my children from me... they’re mine’.

Beginning at the inquest into these tragic central events, Ivy Alvarez presents a story told in non-chronological kaleidoscopic fragments of minute detail and raw emotion. These include an emergency services operator helplessly hearing screams and shotgun blasts down the telephone line; a grandmother thinking of buying a carpet to cover bloodstains; the mistress of the murderer suffering scapegoat-hungry media coverage; Jane, scrabbling in vain to hide from a long feared fate, and Tony, a violent control freak, blaming his victims for his actions.

Over the course of forty-four poems, the reader is taken forwards and backwards in time, each poem helping to construct the wider story and often simultaneously offering a snapshot portrait of the principal character in their own words. This results in a provocative array of stylistic approaches, including a dark appropriation of the Ladybird Readers: 'See Jane run. Watch Dick run. Watch Dick chase Jane. Watch Dick chase / Jane through their house. Dick has a gun. Run Jane run.'

Within this 'verse novel', Alvarez shows admirable artistic control and a remarkable capacity for empathy. She has crafted a range of voices that, even in the briefest of appearances, reveal another facet of the wider narrative and another example of just how far the hurtful consequences of terrible acts can travel. Telling the story in verse form creates just enough distance to prevent Disturbance becoming too emotionally overwhelming to read. This method also reveals a terrible beauty within the blackest shadows of human experience.

Disturbance is a fully ‘adult’ book which may require some readers to look themselves in the eye and ask if they would have acted differently from the neighbour who didn’t want to get involved or the policemen who didn’t rush towards the sound of a shot. So authentically self-protective are some of the characters that a childlike feeling can descend on the reader seeking the need for a hero.

Among the visceral responses Disturbance provokes is a sense of helplessness. In this harsh reality, apparently definitive signs of a tragedy waiting to happen become visible only in hindsight. Wisely, then, Alvarez does not seek the moral high ground of pointing out what people should have done or said. Rather, we are offered authentically painted human responses to the kind of events most of us will be lucky enough never to be caught up in. Alvarez does not seek to suggest how to prevent these kind of horrors. As comforting as it might be to tell ourselves otherwise, such terrible acts occur because one person chooses to commit them. Tony’s choice is his alone, whatever means he uses to justifying himself:

Better to be a brute
than be far less.

So common is the real-life scenario of a divorced father saying ‘You can’t keep my children from me’ that Disturbance could be justified solely as a humane parable and warning about the dark places such a statement may lead. But the skill and imagination with which Alvarez approaches her subject matter from so many perspectives also makes the book an adventure for the mind. This is achieved without ever engendering the feeling that it is exploitative of suffering, and Alvarez leaves plenty of room for readers to bring their own imaginations into play.

Each reader will have their own individual response, just as Alvarez’ characters react individually to these terrible events. The timeless value of storytelling is that it can transport us into the lives, experiences and minds of others, and hold up a mirror to our assumptions and moral certainties. Alvarez has taken a long, courageous look into such a mirror. The reflection we see may bring us close to weeping for humanity. But not to giving up on it.

– Will Ford, New Welsh Review
See the full article here: http://www.newwelshreview.com/article.php?id=662

09/12/2013 - 13:53